The Hunter Chase season in the UK concludes this Friday with a highly competitive card at Stratford and the latest column takes a look at the four Hunter Chases on the card:
Overlut has won this particular event three times in the past, the first of those coming five years ago when he got the better of Cheeky Lad. The twelve year old has had two outings thus far this season winning the first of those prior to a last time out defeat and as with previous years his target has always been this two mile two furlong contest. This does however look a much hotter contest than in the past with the likes of Byerley Bear, Rash Move and Utopian all lining up here. Utopian looks set to go off favourite following his two Hunter Chase successes in April and May, the most recent being a power packed effort to see off previous winner Warwickshire and nine others by six lengths at Fontwell three weeks ago. The six year old is clearly a versatile sort given he’d scored over two mile six furlongs at Fakenham prior to that while surely his greatest claim to fame is that he was sent off odds-on favourite to beat subsequent World Hurdle winner More Of That prior to finishing runner-up to said horse at Folkestone less than eighteen months ago. Byerley Bear was a useful horse in his youth and while he hasn’t exactly shone over regulation fences (a defeat at Cheltenham in May last year being his sole start over them in the UK) with his only victory coming at Cork in April 2012 the Robert Chanin-trained gelding has an enviable record in points with nine victories from his twelve outings. Rash Move is something of a specialist in shorter Hunter Chases and though he hasn’t proven victorious in this sphere since taking the 2012 renewal of the Hunter Chase staged at Wetherby yesterday Fred Hutsby’s charge has finished outside the frame just once in his ten race point career and he is likely to prove hard to keep out of the frame. Preference however is for Utopian who looked a cut above Hunter Chases in scoring last time out and is a youngster on the up for trainer-rider David Dunsdon.
Arguably the most competitive Ladies event staged in recent seasons with the likes of Palypso De Creek, Cottage Oak, Universal Soldier, Moscow Blaze, Lauberhorn and Saveiro all engaged here. Palypso De Creek has been one of the most prolific performers between the flags in recent seasons winning thirteen of his seventeen starts and three times in Hunter Chases. His most recent success in this sphere came at Doncaster in February and this eleven year old stays very well so should have no problem with the three and a half mile trip. Regular partner Claire Hart is on board again here and he and Cottage Oak are likely to dispute favouritism here. The latter had appeared to go off the boil somewhat this season prior to scoring at Tabley on his most recent outing and while the son of Flemensfirth was brought down on his most recent Hunter Chase start for one of pointing’s great characters in the shape of trainer Joe O’Shea he was by no means out of it. Any rain would aid Cottage Oak’s chances with Jane Williams who was on board for his most recent success again taking the ride here. Universal Soldier scored over four miles at Cheltenham at the end of April having been the subject of strong support and has one of the most experienced pilots in the field on board in the shape of Hannah Lewis. Contrast that with Moscow Blaze who had just a maiden victory to his name prior to his Restricted success on his seasonal debut at Cottenham back in December. The eight year old has come on in leaps and bounds recently scoring a high profile success over three miles six furlongs at Charing at the start of April and he is partnered by last year’s winning rider, eighteen year old Page Fuller. Saveiro represents the East Anglia yard of Sandra Fryer, the gelding has won five of his six outings between the flags having taken just two of his twelve outings over fences prior to that and while he’s untested in this class of race he could surprise a number of his rivals here despite the majority of his form coming over considerably shorter trips, regular pilot and National Championship leader Bridget Andrews takes the ride once more. Anna Metekohy had won all five completed starts in Ladies Open events in Wales on Lauberhorn but she has been replaced by leading rider Gina Andrews for this Final of the Aga Ladies Open Point-To-Point Championship, the gelding’s most recent success came at Bredwardine two weeks ago and while he has his stamina to prove he’s clearly a useful individual and has youth on his side relative to many of his rivals here.
Arguably the race of the night and one of the toughest Hunter Chases betting wise that we’ve seen for many a year in the UK. Theatre Queen is likely to go off favourite here but she’s shown signs of temperament in the past, most notably when slowly away twice already this season though she showed no signs of reluctance at Cheltenham on her debut over regulation fences at the end of last month. Mark Wall’s mare was left clear on that occasion but she appeared to be going better when her main rival came to grief anyway and the seven year old will be a warm order to double her Hunter Chase tally. Sharp Suit has already taken one big novices event this Hunter Chase season in the shape of the Intermediate Final at Cheltenham last month and while it was slightly disappointing that he could finish only a neck ahead of Alskamatic on that occasion he remains unbeaten in points and Hunter Chases and looks the one they have to beat in this particular event. Sharp Suit had been placed over three and a quarter miles over hurdles when with Seamus Mullins and if anything promises to be even better over further. Following Dreams has yet to race over regulation fences which makes the only contender in this field without previous track experience but he’s looked an improved horse this term on soft ground with his latest disappointing outing coming in the prestigious Lady Dudley Cup on good ground at Chaddesley Corbett. Alistair Ralph’s charge has already beaten a number of useful performers in points this season and is a dark horse for this Novices Championship with leading jockey Tom Weston booked to ride. Of the remainder Bradley Brook, Gale Force Oscar and Chosen Milan scored in Hunter Chases last time out while John Daniell was unlucky not to score at Fontwell and this looks a contest where you couldn’t rule any of the ten contenders out.
The concluding Champion Hunters ‘Chase has been won by some of the best competitors in this sphere over the years with Mossey Joe adding his name to the roll of honour in 2013. The 2014 renewal looks unlikely to have a horse of that class engaged but in the shape of Pearlysteps, Paint The Clouds, Start Royal and the Irish raider Vital Plot there are a number of decent competitors engaged. The first named represents the stable of Henry Daly and comes her off a second to Universal Soldier over four miles at Cheltenham. Already a winner twice on heavy ground this season at Towcester and Ludlow the eleven year old son of Alflora stays well and proved to be the best of the British runners in the biggest Hunter Chase of them all at Cheltenham in March, a race in which he finished fourth in. Paint The Clouds is two from two in this sphere since returning from a twelve month break at Newbury in March, he’s won both of his Hunter Chases by nineteen lengths including on good ground over two miles seven furlongs here last month and while he looks likely to stay this trip the ground will surely be all against him given in five previous outings where the word “soft” has appeared in the going description the gelding has yet to finish in the first three. Start Royal was noticeably weak in the market prior to romping to a twenty five length success over this trip at Fontwell under James Tudor last time out. Prior to that Alan Hill’s charge had been regarded as something of a short runner and though he pulled up in the novices race on this card two years ago he looked better than ever last time out and this ex-rules performer again looks set to defy his diminutive stature by putting up a bold show here. Vital Plot has taken three Open events in Ireland this season including when seeing off Finea by a distance on yielding ground at Oldcastle on his penultimate start in April. The ten year old proved to be no match for On The Fringe on his return to regulation fences at Punchestown earlier this month but he is another to consider in this competitive event with Jamie Codd returning to the saddle. Of the remainder both Foundry Square and Current Exchange bring solid form into this contest while Certain Flight is an up and coming pointer who has taken his last two points and has the assistance of Will Biddick in the saddle here.